Fire Resilience: Can Fish, Wildlife, and Humans Adapt to Shifts in Wildfire Disturbance? (2019 Reno Meeting)


Wildlife, and Humans Adapt to Shifts in Wildfire Disturbance?
Session organizers (left to right): Mark Bowen, Henriette Jager, Serra Hoagland, Tracy Melvin, Luiz Silva. Jeff Thomas (not shown)

Two Sections of the American Fisheries Society and three Working Groups of The Wildlife Society organized this two-day symposium. Presentations explored the responses of bats and other mammals, birds, aquatic insects, and fishes to wildfire, mediated by changes in vegetation structure, air and water quality. We learned that wildfire disturbance is complex and controversial. In the short term, wildfires change water and air quality, threaten fish and wildlife, and destroy human infrastructure. Yet long-term consequences may be positive where ecosystems are adapted to historical fire regimes. Two themes emerged from the research presented. First, moderate wildfires had short-term adverse effects, but stimulated higher diversity and productivity through creating gaps in the forest canopy for a decade before growing back and returning to pre-fire conditions.
Second, wildfire-adapted cosystems are not always resilient to climate-induced shifts in wildfire, as illustrated by two examples. 1) The successional shift from California forest to chaparral caused by repeated, high-intensity burns would harm forest-adapted bat species. 2) Rare fishes in isolated New Mexico tributaries were extirpated following catastrophic wildfires and monsoon flooding. Studies that compared sites that previously experienced high-intensity and low-intensity burns found that significant long- term responses tended to be negative responses to high-intensity wildfires.